20 FINGERS (Mania Akbari, 2004)

Dedicated to Abbas Kiarostami, in whose Ten Mania Akbari starred two years earlier, Akbari’s 20 Fingers also tries weighing freedom for Iranian women as it scrapes against the implacable rock of male prerogatives and presumption. Here, also, the form is episodic; different couples, perhaps one couple, played by Akbari and Bijan Daneshmand—together, they produced the videographed work, which took the Digital Cinema prize at Venice—are caught colliding over contemporary Iranian issues concerning family. Rather than wonderful, like Ten, 20 Fingers is estimable, something we are glad got made and something we are glad to see.
     In the first episode, the couple are driving home at night, the automobile’s confinement imposing irony on illusions of movement, progress, freedom of choice. The screen goes black as the man takes pleasure in his wife. She also may have taken pleasure, but the possibility of being pregnant again—the couple already has a daughter—doesn’t strike her fancy. The woman has just begun college classes; finally she has found some time just for herself. Her spouse, though, rejects abortion as a solution to how “hard” things will be for her with a new baby. He counters that their daughter needs a playmate! She has arranged a doctor’s appointment; he expects her to cede to his wishes in the matter. Another day, they are on a motorcycle, he again driving, quarreling over the same issue. For the man, the woman’s feelings simply don’t count. In another episode, the woman’s—or another woman’s—lesbian relationship is their bone of contention. President Ahmadinejad cannot have liked this film!
     But I did. I enjoyed its subversive details, such as the woman’s patient, obviously routine application of lipstick. This woman resists the reactionary pressures that male-biased Iranian society daily arrays against her.

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